02/27/2011 3:43PM

Sunrise with 'Candy

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It was cold Sunday morning at Santa Anita. The temperature at dawn hovered at about freezing.

Bundled from the chill, jockeys Joel Rosario and Rafael Bejarano arrived early at trainer John Sadler’s barn.

They had good reason for the 6:30 a.m. workout call. Rosario rides Twirling Candy in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 5; Bejarano may end up on Gladding. Both horses were scheduled for their final workout Sunday.

Sadler typically does not work his top horses at daybreak. Sunday was the exception. Why so early?

“The riders loved the track (Saturday), that’s why I went early (Sunday),” Sadler said. He figured the earlier he went, the closer the racetrack surface would resemble the one that riders were fond of the previous afternoon. Sunday at sunrise, the track was still perfect.

Sadler shouted to Bejarano: “Back up to the three, seven-eighths in 1:26.” Bejarano understood. Gladding would work seven furlongs alone.

Rosario was on Twirling Candy, who had a rabbit. Rosario has been working Twirling Candy all winter. He knew the instructions. Break off at the seven-eighths, three behind Hammurabi. Collar that rival into the lane, and then let Twirling Candy strut his stuff.

“(Twirling Candy) was a little quirky early on,” Sadler said. “Rosario works him all the time.” In other words, they get along well together.

The set left Sadler’s barn and headed toward the track. The sun was just creeping over the east horizon, and the glare into the clubhouse turn was intense.

It was 6:40 a.m. when Twirling Candy broke off three behind Hammurabi, as planned. Twirling Candy tracked his mate while comfortably in hand. Hammurabi opened up briefly on the far turn, before Twirling Candy went after him.

Twirling Candy caught his rival in only a few strides, cut the corner, rallied inside his workmate into the lane, and finished powerfully while drawing off by five lengths.

“Geez, what a horse,” Sadler said. No poker face. He could not wipe away his smile. The workout time was 1:25. Not that it made any difference.

Twirling Candy galloped out smoothly. “That was nice,” Sadler said. Translation: brilliant.

Next was Gladding. He looked okay going seven furlongs in 1:24.80. But it’s just not fair to compare his work to a work by the best horse in the country. Gladding is not in Twirling Candy’s league.

The horses walked through the grandstand tunnel toward the walking ring, returning to Sadler’s barn. Although the work was over, post-workout behavior is as important as the drill itself.

“This is the key part, right here,” Sadler said on his way to meet Twirling Candy and Gladding. “You don’t want them to look stressed out.”

Twirling Candy strolled through the walking ring, calm as ever. No stress. “That’s what I was looking for,” Sadler said.

“That was perfect, Rosario!” Sadler said. “Did he get tired?”

Rosario shook his head and smiled. The final workout by the Santa Anita Handicap favorite had gone off without a hitch.

Want to bet against Twirling Candy on Saturday in the Big ’Cap?

Good luck with that.